Posted by dailypop on May 11, 2011
The Stones of Venice
“Fanatics never want to get their hands dirty. That’s why they all wear gloves.”
Written by Paul Magrs
Released March 2001
The opening ‘season’ of Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor is a mixed affair. The first two adventures are quite good and rapidly establish the romantic and passionate character of the ‘George Lazenby’ of Doctor Who. Storm Warning was a rather traditional story combining the historic with fantastic while the second story re-introduced the Cybermen in a tension-filled story set in deep space. His third outing is an entirely different affair set in the doomed city of Venice on the eve of its destruction. The fourth installment ‘Minuet in Hell’ is where things really fall apart… but I’m saving that for later.
A rather flighty Doctor tries to convince his companion Charlie to enjoy the randomness of their travels, citing that he is determined to turn over a new leaf in his regenerated form. Finding themselves in the beautiful sinking city of Venice, the pair are met by an overly dramatic lady, Miss Lavish, wandering the streets as revelers drunkenly raise a glass to the demise of a once classical monument to romance and beauty. The mysterious Miss Lavish acts as an absurd source of back-story, imbuing the Doctor and Charlie with dread and urgency that only sets the Doctor’s sense of adventure on end.
The Stones of Venice is a strange mixture of Gothic adventure and comedy, much like an adventure from the classic series, ala Graham Williams. It provides McGann ample opportunity to show his acting chops as he dances the role of flippant hero and madcap wanderer, hearkening back to the best days of Tom Baker’s middle era. Forcing himself on the local curator of the Royal Collection, Churchwell, the Doctor is both charming and disarming, both impressing upon the stranger his mysterious knowledge while admitting to being unable to fool anyone at all. Yet as the Doctor learns the dangerous setting that he has landed within, what with the cult of the former Queen Estella searching the streets at night clad in robes and armed with knives, he realizes too late that he has left Charlie in the lap of peril.
The gondolier Pietro is at first quite friendly and eager to answer Charlie’s questions about life in Venice, but soon it becomes apparent that he has a secret plot and Charlie plays a vital role. After drugging Charlie and dressing her up as the missing Estella, lost for a hundred years, Pietro presents her to the Duke Orsino. Between the dreaded cult of Estella and the gondoliers seeking to make a coup against the ruling class, the Doctor and Charlie are in the middle of it. Unfortunately, after all of the parts of the story are established and the atmosphere reduced to canned music and the background chatter of the revelers, The Stones of Venice falls sadly flat. The frenzied cries of anxiety as the gondoliers assault the last remaining plots of dry land are rather silly. I mean, is the ‘monster of the week’ really mermen gondoliers?
I still greatly enjoy and recommend this adventure as it is uniquely witty and charming. It all falls apart 3/4 of the way through, but up until then it is a wonderful love letter to the classic days of Doctor Who complete with over the top villains, weird aliens masquerading as humans and some of the finest quips this side of City of Death.
Doctor Who – The Stones of Venice can be purchased at local retailers such as Mike’s Comics and online from Big Finish.
Posted in Big Finish, Doctor Who- 8th Doctor | Tagged: big finish doctor who audio adventures, doctor who paul mcgann radio audio | 4 Comments »
Posted by dailypop on May 11, 2011
The Marian Conspiracy
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Released March 2000
“Of course an execution is an excellent day out… take the kids, they love it!”
I had initially skipped around the Big Finish series and heard the Apocalypse Element, wondering who this flippant older companion was. Evelyn Smythe of course has a strong fan following amongst fans of the extended ‘Who universe. While I of course have a sweet spot for monster stories, I adore pure historical Doctor Who adventures. From Marco Polo to Reign of Terror and even the late 80′s attempts that inserted science fiction elements. Whereas the BBC Wales Doctor Who series seems unable to understand the point of tales set in established history and use the occasions to include historical figures as celebrity guest-stars. Another point that escapes the Wales team in the regard to historicals is that they are inevitably about the Doctor adhering to the time line and refraining from becoming part of established events or altering what must happen.
Writer Jacqueline Rayner understands what makes an historical adventure work and the Marian Conspiracy excels in providing complicated plots that not only tempt the Doctor to take a part in history but also put him in jeopardy as well. Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is renowned for his intelligent and worldly manner tempered by an egocentric attitude. On screen this often came off as a bit camp and crass but he has found a new legion of followers in the audio format. New companion Evelyn gives the Sixth Doctor a run for his money by being almost as self-opinionated and sure of herself, spouting a stubborn streak and an indefatigable character. She’s what many call ‘brassy’ and I can certainly see why listeners like her.
The Marian Conspiracy opens with the Doctor discovering that Evelyn Smythe is a walking temporal anomaly. Taking her back to Tudor England, the Doctor seeks an audience with the Queen while Evelyn rubs shoulder with the locals by the pub… where she discovers the date after causing a catastrophic faux pas by raising a glass to ‘good Queen Bess’ long before Queen Elizabeth took the throne.
As the Doctor attempts to find the much-needed answers to the temporal anomaly, he becomes wrapped up in local politics. Placed in an awkward position, the Doctor is very fond of Queen Mary, but cannot support her overzealous mission to burn heretics at the stake. Meanwhile Evelyn introduces hot cocoa to her new friends only to find that they are involved in a dangerous plot. Both soon find that they must tread carefully to maintain the web of time but not too
A straight forward and sensible adventure, the Marian Conspiracy is like a step back in time to the Hartnell era when Doctor Who was as educational as it was entertaining. It’s a thrilling and smart story that appeals to a specific kind of listener, so I can fully understand fans of the monster story dozing off to this one. But for fans of the Smugglers and the Massacre of St. Barthlomew’s Eve, it’s an ideal offering. The quality of the material from the voice acting to script and soundscape (music and background sound effects) wrap the ears in a lush world of history and atmosphere.
Not a thrilling high adventure entry, the Marian Conspiracy is nonetheless a superb story and the beginning of a lovely friendship between the Doctor and Evelyn.
Doctor Who – The Marian Conspiracy can be purchased at local retailers such as Mike’s Comics and online from Big Finish.
Posted in Big Finish, Doctor Who- 6th Doctor | Tagged: big finish doctor who audio adventures, colin baker doctor who bbc, Evelyn Smythe maggie stables doctor who | 3 Comments »